In This Issue . . .
Navigating by Phone: A Review of Wayfinder Access GPS and Mobile Geo, Part 1
We evaluate Wayfinder Access, one of two cell phone-based GPS programs--Daren Burton
This year, the focus was on new GPS systems, DAISY book/MP3 players and CCTVs--Deborah Kendrick and Jay Leventhal
Accessible Pedestrian Signals: San Francisco Sets an Example
Structured negotiations bring safer travel to blind pedestrians--Lainey Feingold and Jessie Lorenz
AccessWorld Survey Results on Social Networking
We report the results of the latest AccessWorld Extra survey--Compiled by Jay Leventhal
Letters to the Editor
Navigating by Phone: A Review of Wayfinder Access GPS and Mobile Geo, Part 1
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have always intrigued me, going back to when I was a teenager reading about the military applications and through the past decade or so as they have become travel aids for people who are blind or have low vision. I was even lucky enough to have been an adviser on a project to develop an experimental prototype of a laptop-based talking GPS navigation system that was designed by scientists at West Virginia University several years ago. I have also enjoyed being part of a couple of evaluations of some of the accessible GPS systems that have been on the market for the past few years that were reported in AccessWorld. However, I have never used a GPS device in my day-to-day life, mainly because of the bulkiness of it all. Although I have been impressed with the technology, I have never been comfortable walking down the street with a notetaker or other PDA (personal digital assistant) device hanging over my shoulders, headphones on my head, and a GPS receiver clipped to my hat. That situation has all changed recently, though, as accessible GPS technology has moved into the cell phone arena. This article is the first in a two-part series evaluating Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo, two accessible cell phone-based GPS navigation systems that can be used in conjunction with cell phone screen-reading software.
Caption: Putting Wayfinder GPS to the test.
This article presents a brief description of both systems, but focuses on the Wayfinder Access system. My next article will focus on Mobile Geo, with a comparison of the two products' features and functions. I also include my own personal experiences with the products in each article.
What Do These GPS Products Do?
These cell phone-based GPS software products do much of the same things as their notetaker/PDA predecessors have done, but in a smaller, more convenient package. To access the many features of these products, you must also have a screen reader installed on your cell phone or PDA device. Their features include the following:
- Finding directions and planning routes
- Learning your current location
- Giving pedestrian and automobile directions
- Providing a spoken itinerary and alerts of upcoming turns
- Announcing and providing directions to points of interest, such as restaurants, hotels, banks, gas stations, churches, and dozens of other categories of places
- Accessing updates of traffic conditions
- Providing settings to configure how you want the information presented
- Being compatible with cell phone screen-reading software
Priced at $399, Wayfinder Access is manufactured by Wayfinder Systems AB, a Swedish company. It is compatible with both the TALKS and Mobile Speak screen readers and works on phones that run the Symbian operating system. Symbian phones run on the GSM cellular network, so you will need to be a customer of a service provider that uses that network, such as AT&T or T-Mobile, to use Wayfinder Access.
Priced at $845, Mobile Geo is a Code Factory product powered by Sendero GPS, the GPS software from the Sendero Group that is used on HumanWare's BrailleNote line of products. It is compatible with Code Factory's Mobile Speak screen reader and runs on Windows Mobile-based Smartphones, Pocket PC phones, and PDAs. Windows Mobile phones run on both the GSM and CDMA cellular network, so Mobile Geo users are not limited to specific service providers.
The interface for both products uses your screen reader's voice to convey information and your phone's keys for input, but the latest version of Mobile Geo also has a voice-command feature for input. Some of the phones with which Mobile Geo and Wayfinder Access are compatible have their own built-in GPS receivers, but others require that you purchase a wireless Bluetooth receiver. One of the main differences between Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo is the way they access map data. With Mobile Geo, you load maps into your phone's memory or onto its memory card, and you may need to purchase and install new maps if you travel abroad. Wayfinder gets its maps over the air via your cellular connection, so you do not need to install any maps. However, Wayfinder's functions are limited if you are in an area with no cellular service, and you need to have a data plan as part of your cellular service. I pay an extra $15 per month for my AT&T data plan, and T-Mobile charges $19.99 per month. You also need to establish an Internet Access Point on your phone.
Both products allow for a free trial period for you to test the products, and you can access user manuals and learn more about the products, including compatibility with phones and PDA devices, at their web sites. For Mobile Geo, go to www.codefactory.es or www.senderogroup.com. For Wayfinder, go to www.wayfinder.com.
The Wayfinder Access Interface
Wayfinder appears as an option on your phone's menu, and when it starts, the main menu appears with four items that you can scroll through and select with your phone's joystick. Some phones have five-way navigation buttons, rather than a joystick, but both perform the same functions, and I will use the term joystick from here on. The four main menu items are these:
- Map: The map is a visual tool that is used to show your current position or to select other positions as a starting point, destination, or favorite. The Map is not compatible with screen readers, but its functions can be accessed via Wayfinder's other tools.
- Find: The Find tool is used to conduct a search for a specific location. You can then create a route using your search result as your destination. You can also save the result as a favorite, so that you can navigate to it later.
- Favorites: The Favorites tool is like a bookmarking tool, listing the favorites that you have created and storing their GPS locations. You can use the Favorites to create navigation routes as starting or destination points. You can also delete your favorites here.
- Services: Services has additional functions, such as information on weather, a currency converter, and information about public transportation in the area.
If you move your joystick to the right from the main menu, you can move through several other tabs. The first is the Info tab, which tells you the current strength of your GPS connection, your longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates, your current altitude, and the speed at which you are traveling. You use your joystick to scroll up and down through that information. To the right of the Info tab are the Vicinity tabs. The first is the Vicinity All tab, which reports all the street crossings, favorites, and points of interest in your area. The next three Vicinity tabs, in order, show the street crossings, your favorites, and the points of interest in your current area.
Wayfinder's interface also uses your phone's soft keys, whose functions change according to what you are currently doing, and your screen reader can tell you their current functions. The Right soft key functions as a Back and/or Exit button. At the main menu, the Left soft key is an Options button, which accesses a list of things to do, including go to the Mobile shop, send a Wayfinder trial invitation to a friend, load and save routes, submit your activation code, connect or disconnect to or from GPS, and more.
Settings is one of the choices in that list, and you can use the Settings to configure how you want Wayfinder to function. There are five tabs in Settings, and the first one is called Phone Settings, where you can move your joystick up and down to move to controls for adjusting the volume, the verbosity, the backlight, and the language. You can also change your Internet Access Point and toggle your GPS connection.
Moving your joystick to the right takes you to the Route tab, which has several settings. You can set your transport mode to passenger car or pedestrian and your distances to be reported as miles/feet or kilometers/meters. You can set Wayfinder to optimize your route for time and distance or to avoid traffic, toll roads, and/or interstate highways. You can also set Wayfinder to reroute you automatically if you go off course, and you can set it to check traffic information and tell it how often to report traffic information as you travel.
The next three Settings tabs to the right are the Nearby tab, the Comm tab, and the Map tab. I did not use these tabs in my testing, and to keep this article from getting too long, I will not go into detail here. You can read more about these tabs in the Wayfinder manual, which is available at www.mywayfinder.com/manual/access/en/main.html.
Testing Wayfinder Access
I tested Wayfinder Access on the Nokia N82, which also has the knfb Reader software installed, and I used the latest version of the Mobile Speak for Symbian software, version 3.6. The Nokia N82 has a built-in GPS receiver, and I also used it with a RoyalTek external Bluetooth GPS receiver that I borrowed from a friend. I tested Wayfinder in both Pedestrian mode and Passenger Car mode in several different scenarios.
I began with downloading and installing Wayfinder, which was easy and accessible. I went to access.getwf.com on my phone's web browser to download the software, followed a few easy steps, and was ready to go with my trial period. If you have purchased Wayfinder Access, you will get an activation code, and it is also easy and accessible to activate your product using the code.
Passenger Car Mode
It was the end of the workday when I installed Wayfinder, and I hitched a ride home with a neighbor. Using my phone's built-in GPS receiver, I set Wayfinder into Passenger Car mode and used the Find application to enter my home address. Wayfinder uses a simple form with edit fields where I entered my street, house number, and town and zip code. I pressed in on my joystick and, within five seconds, it found my house and was providing navigational directions. A clear, recorded female voice announced upcoming turns and the distance to those turns as we approached them, and would say "turn left here" or "turn right here" pretty much precisely when it was time to turn. I could also use Wayfinder with my screen reader's voice to access much more information about my trip home. In addition to the Info and Vicinity tabs mentioned earlier, a Guide tab and an Itinerary tab also appear. The Guide tab informs you of the next road and the distance to that turn, as well as the name of your current street. Moving your joystick to the right takes you to the Itinerary tab, and you can move your joystick up to listen to all your upcoming turns and distances one at a time.
As we made our way home, I listened to the female voice's turn-by-turn directions and the information presented in Wayfinder's Guide and Itinerary tabs and found a high degree of accuracy almost all the way home. However, as we pulled onto my street and in front of my house, Wayfinder wanted to take me a block past my house and another block to the right. I used Wayfinder in dozens of other Passenger Car mode scenarios in my town of Huntington, West Virginia, and found it to be accurate, often taking me right to my destination and at other times to within less than half a block of my destination. However, there were a few times when it gave incorrect directions, most often in more rural areas where map data may not be accurate. Also, a handful of times, it could not find the address for which I searched. In my small town of Huntington, I did not have much problem with "urban canyon" effect, which occurs when tall buildings block your access to the GPS satellites. However, I did get some of that when I tested in Washington, DC, and more in Chicago. My friend's external Bluetooth receiver helped me get better satellite signals.
The female voice tells you only the direction of your upcoming turns and does not tell you the street onto which you are turning. Although it was sufficient most of the time, my driver and I once noticed a potential for anxiety as we came up on a left turn onto an interstate highway. The voice was correct when it said to "turn left here," but the entrances to both the east and west interstate lanes were right beside each other. Although the Guide and Itinerary tabs told me which entrance to take, it would be helpful if the female voice would also announce street names or interstate entrance ramps.
The recorded female voice does not speak in Pedestrian mode, but your screen reader will speak your turn-by-turn directions, as well as the other navigational information described for Passenger Car mode.
Caption: Choosing the correct route.
I used Wayfinder in Pedestrian mode in a couple of dozen scenarios in Huntington, and I also used it a little bit during recent trips to Washington, DC, and Chicago. I first used Wayfinder's Where Am I feature, which you can get to by pressing the left soft key for Options while in one of the Vicinity tabs. It told me, correctly, that I was on Third Avenue, but it did not give me an address. Third Avenue is more than two miles long in Huntington, so that was not very specific information. However, the information in the Vicinity tabs helped me to pinpoint my location. I then typed the name of the local bus station into the Find tool, and Wayfinder found it in a couple of seconds and began to guide me along my way. It guided me properly along a six-block route, but the announcements of the distance to upcoming intersections were not accurate. As I would approach intersections, it would report that I was 120 feet away; then a bit later, it would say I was 59 feet away. However, at the 59-foot prompt, I would often actually be within just a few feet of the intersection. Also, about 30 feet after turning down the final street, it told me that I had reached my destination. However, my destination was actually on the other side of the street and at the other end of the block. I then had Wayfinder calculate a route back to my office, and although the distances to intersections were still inaccurate, the route was correct. It was also more accurate at my destination this time, telling me I was at my destination when I was close to my building, but still about 50 feet away.
The majority of my test scenarios were similar, with accurate routes but missing my destination from about 10 to 80 feet, with an occasional incorrect road name being included. However, using the external receiver improved the accuracy and helped with the "urban canyon" effect that is common in cities.
Washington, DC, was the first large city setting for my Wayfinder testing, and even though Washington has relatively short buildings, I was unable to connect reliably with my Nokia N82's built-in receiver, so I used the Bluetooth receiver all the time. The first thing that caught my ear was all the information about points of interest near my hotel, so I decided to go on a hunt for a good restaurant. I asked a bellman some basic questions about the area regarding sidewalks and traffic and then used Wayfinder's points of interest Vicinity tab to find a Thai restaurant about two blocks away, and I chose the option to navigate to the restaurant. The sidewalk was busy when Wayfinder told me I had arrived at my destination, so I asked a passerby if the Thai restaurant was near, and she told me the door was about 15 feet away. I did the same to find a nearby bank and then go back to my hotel, and Wayfinder's routes were again accurate, but I was about 30 and 40 feet, respectively, away from my destinations when it said I had arrived. The announcements of the distance to intersections were again often inaccurate. I had similar experiences during short excursions in Chicago, but the urban-canyon effect was more of a problem, even with the external receiver.
Low Vision Accessibility
In addition to the TALKS and Mobile Speak screen readers, Wayfinder Access is also compatible with the ZOOMS and Mobile Magnifier screen magnifiers. ZOOMS is packaged with TALKS from Nuance, and Mobile Magnifier is a Code Factory product that can be activated along with Mobile Speak. Along with Lee Huffman, our low vision technology expert at AFB TECH, I took a look at how Wayfinder works with both products. The magnification and other features of the screen magnifiers did work to enhance the visual appearance of Wayfinder. All the menus and other informational screens performed as expected when manipulated by the screen magnifiers. However, as was the case when testing Wayfinder with the screen reader, the Map feature was not something that we found to be practical to use with screen magnifiers. Although you can magnify and change the color of the Map, you cannot really get much useful visual information that way. In addition, although the menus and other navigational information presented by Wayfinder were compatible with the screen magnifiers, it was not practical to use screen magnifiers outside in daylight. We found that there was too much glare, and the ambient light worked to wash out the screen, making it difficult to see anything on the screen. Overall, a person with low vision will generally have to rely on a screen reader's speech output to use Wayfinder.
Documentation and Other Resources
As I mentioned earlier, Wayfinder's user manual can be found online. It is in html format and is fully accessible to both screen-reader and screen-magnifier users. I was able to read it on both my computer and my phone's web browsers. In addition to finding information about Wayfinder at www.wayfinder.com, you can listen to several Blind Cool Tech podcasts about Wayfinder and other GPS products at www.blindcooltech.com.
Built-In versus External Bluetooth GPS Receivers
I have mentioned that the Bluetooth receiver I used was more accurate than my phone's built-in receiver, but another important advantage is in battery use. When using my phone's built-in receiver, the phone's battery completely drained in fewer than two hours, which could have been a problem if I had gotten myself lost while testing these products. The external receiver has its own battery, so it does not affect your phone's battery. Of course, an external receiver does mean another gadget to purchase, and you have to keep it charged and carry it around with you in addition to your cell phone. I looked at a few external receivers on the Internet and found prices ranging from $60 to $150. The external receivers were around 2 inches by 1 inch by a half inch in size and weighed a couple of ounces. Their added inconvenience is far outweighed by the battery issue alone. The receivers that are built into today's phones are a generation old, and the latest state-of-the-art technology is found in external receivers. Although you do have to have external receivers exposed to the sky to establish a satellite connection, you can then put them in a pocket or bag, so you do not have to have them clipped to a hat or lapel. You may want to check the Wayfinder or Mobile Geo web sites to find suggestions for external Bluetooth receivers.
Has the Author Been Converted?
I opened this article by saying that I was intrigued by GPS technology but had not decided to use it in my daily life. However, after my experiences using GPS on my cell phone, a device that I always carry with me, I think I will now be a user of the technology. I especially like the Passenger Car mode because my wife and I do a lot of traveling. I can use my phone's car power adapter to avoid draining the battery. My wife is a top-notch driver, and I would put her up against Mario Andretti any day. However, I will admit that she is among the directionally challenged, and we have occasionally had some directional problems while traveling. Now, in addition to going over maps and planning routes the old-fashioned way, Wayfinder provides the extra information to keep us on course. Wayfinder's traffic updates have also come in handy on more than one occasion. I can use Wayfinder's Information tab to find our current speed and let my wife know when she is speeding. However, to preserve marital bliss, I have learned not to do so too often.
I also enjoy using the Pedestrian mode, but I have a solid mental map of the areas of my hometown where I live and work, so I do not use it every day. However, it is great when I am traveling in other cities, and I particularly like the Points of Interest feature and ability to search for nearby stores, banks, and restaurants when I travel.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Wayfinder has an accessible interface, and it is easy to learn and get started using it as long as you are already familiar with using your phone's screen reader. It is also fast, finding searches usually in fewer than 5 seconds. It is responsive to keystrokes using your screen reader, but I found that when scrolling through the Favorites that I had bookmarked, it was verbose when describing each one. Also, I could not scroll quickly through the Favorites to the one that I wanted because I had to listen to all the information about each Favorite. One thing that took some getting used to is the way Wayfinder gives you the location of points of interest using degrees to point you in the right direction. For example, it may say, "Marriott Hotel 350 degrees, 200 feet." If you remember that 360 degrees makes a complete circle, then the Marriott should be in front of you and a little bit to the left. However, I noticed that the degrees that Wayfinder reported were sometimes upside down, adding to my confusion. In noisy areas, my phone's built-in speaker was usually sufficient, but you may want to use headphones or a wireless Bluetooth headset for clarity and privacy.
Although GPS navigational tools are nice ways to plan routes and to learn about your surroundings, they certainly do not replace a cane or dog guide. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement on the Sendero Group's web site that says, "Use of this product when traveling independently is recommended only when the blind user has received training in the skills of orientation and mobility." A similar warning may be appropriate for traveling in a passenger car. GPS systems should be treated as an additional navigational aide and not relied on entirely.
Stay tuned to AccessWorld for my next article, which focuses on Mobile Geo, with some more comparisons between Mobile Geo and Wayfinder. In the meantime, you can take advantage of the products' free trial periods and test them out for yourself.
To try the Wayfinder Access free 14-day trial, go to access.getwf.com in your mobile phone's browser and download Wayfinder. You can go to www.codefactory.es for information on trying out Mobile Geo. There is also a free shareware cell phone GPS product for Symbian phones, called Loadstone, and you can learn about it at www.loadstone-gps.com.
Manufacturer: Wayfinder Systems, Kunsgatan 5 S-111 43, Stockholm, Sweden; phone: 866-467-4761; web site: www.wayfinder.com.
Manufacturer: Code Factory, S.L., Rambla Egara, 148, 2-2 08221, Terrassa (Barcelona) Spain; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.codefactory.es.
Distributor: Sendero Group LLC, 429 F Street, Suite 4, Davis, CA 95616; phone: 530-757-6800; web site: www.senderogroup.com.
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March 16–21, 2009, marked the 24th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, which has come to be known simply as the CSUN conference, after its hosting organization, the California State University at Northridge Center on Disabilities. More than 4,000 people were in attendance from around the world, and two hotels, the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and Renaissance Montura, were filled to capacity with exhibits and sessions. Assistive listening devices for accessing everything from telephones to televisions, environmental control products enabling people with mobility impairments to operate computers and other devices with breath or eye movement, and a plethora of communications devices for children and adults with speech-related disabilities were among the myriad products on display. For people who are blind or have low vision, products and workshops were once again in abundance, with the emerging themes centering on GPS (Global Positioning Systems), PDAs (personal digital assistants) and Smartphones, anything portable, and a mantra of "coming soon."
On the Move with GPS
A collaboration between Freedom Scientific and the Sendero Group was announced, resulting in a new face for the StreetTalk VIP navigation software for the PAC Mate Omni. Demonstrated in a session conducted by Jonathan Mosen, as well as on the exhibit floor, the new StreetTalk will offer many of the features that are already familiar to users of Sendero GPS on other platforms, including both vehicular and pedestrian navigation, millions of POIs (points of interest) compiled in both commercial and user databases, and more. The product is expected to be released in summer 2009.
Sendero's GPS software continues to be available on the Braille Sense and Voice Sense; Mobile Geo; and, of course, the BrailleNote family of products. Sendero itself announced the availability of a new GPS receiver. The iBlue 737 is described as "supersensitive," with the ability to access a signal within 15 seconds, and is smaller and lighter than previously available models.
Verizon Wireless jumped on the bandwagon with a new phone, introduced in time for the CSUN conference, that is completely accessible to users who are blind. The Motorola Q9C can be ordered already loaded with the TALKS screen-reading software—enabling the user who is blind to send and receive text messages and e-mail messages, to access Contacts and Calendar information, and to use the Internet. The product was the result of a collaboration among Verizon, Nuance, and Dolphin Computer Access.
The American Printing House for the Blind showed a docking station for the Braille+ Mobile Manager (the PDA that is based on the Icon from LevelStar) and a 12-cell refreshable braille display. The latter can provide braille output for the Braille+, Icon, or a variety of mobile phones.
Although initially introduced at the ATIA conference in January 2009, the knfb Reader Mobile's new version was new to many at the CSUN conference. This new version offers faster recognition and processing of print, multiple voices, language translation, and more onscreen feedback for low vision users. Knfb Reading Technologies is also offering the software on another phone, adding the older Nokia 6220 to the already available Nokia N82 phone.
HumanWare Canada provided private demonstrations of a prototype product that will allow text-to-speech access to the ubiquitous BlackBerry. Called Orator, the plans for the product include complete access to all BlackBerry features and—you guessed it—is expected to launch in summer 2009. Orator is a joint project of HumanWare, Code Factory, and Research in Motion (RIM), the BlackBerry manufacturer.
Also from HumanWare were interesting upgrades for the Victor Reader Stream and BrailleNote products. The Stream upgrade, version 3.0 (released on March 31, 2009), offers two voices, search capabilities in text files, and multifolder capabilities in the Music and Other Books folders. For BrailleNotes PK and mPower, Keysoft 8.0 introduces KeyChat, an instant messaging application that allows the user to send and receive instant messages via a number of popular IM services and to do so in contracted braille.
DAISY Book Players
Known for its superb recording capabilities, Plextor has introduced a handheld book player, the PLEXTALK Pocket. Although promising, the unit does not, at this time, play books that are downloaded from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) or Audible.com. Similarly, GW Micro introduced the Book Sense, a handheld book player and voice recorder (expected to be launched officially in summer 2009). The unit offers excellent sound quality and easy navigation. At this stage, however, it allows only one bookmark and cannot yet play NLS or Audible.com material.
One of the most intriguing products in the exhibit hall was the prototype of a machine designed by IRTI that defies simple categorization. A stand-alone scanner with optical character recognition and read-aloud capabilities, the device allows the user to save documents in a variety of formats, including DAISY. In addition, however, the same machine includes an Internet radio and a talking DVD player. Not all features were yet functional, but thus far, the device has a definite charm. It, too, is expected to be released in summer 2009—and, who knows, maybe by then it will have incorporated a coffeemaker!
Even More Products
Enhanced Vision introduced the Pebble, a handheld video magnifier that magnifies from 2–10x and weighs 7.7 ounces. The Pebble has an LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor and sells for $595.
Franklin Electronic Publishing showed the Franklin Bill Reader, a product that uses a camera to identify U.S. currency. The Bill Reader speaks in English and Spanish and will sell for about $300.
Dolphin Computer Access previewed version 11 of its Supernova/Hal screen-magnification/screen-reading software. Due out later this year, the new version will include support for Microsoft Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8 and support for dual monitors.
The Big Picture
The CSUN conference has long been a leader in providing accessibility of all sorts to people with disabilities. All venues are wheelchair accessible. Assistive listening devices are readily available. Materials were provided in braille and on CD in DAISY format. The tactile maps—while improved from the 2008 version—were still not as useful as the ones provided 8 or 10 years ago. Although the CSUN staff has always distinguished itself by offering sighted guides upon request to facilitate navigating the immense number of exhibits, the quality of that particular assistance has diminished over time. In the past, the volunteer sighted guides were fluent speakers and readers of English, sometimes even familiar with blindness and guiding techniques. This year, unfortunately, although assistance was always available when requested, the abilities of the individuals who provided it to read exhibit signage or communicate verbally were inconsistent.
That said, the CSUN conference maintains its status as an event that is teeming with innovative products, techniques, and people who are related to the world of assistive technology. Perhaps the biggest news at this year's event, in fact, was that the conference is so successful that it has outgrown the venues that were used for 19 of its 24 years. Next year, for the first time, the conference will not be in Los Angeles, but in San Diego, where all the exhibits, workshops, and speakers will occupy a single facility. See future issues of AccessWorld for details.
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Accessible Pedestrian Signals: San Francisco Sets an Example
Accessible Pedestrian Signals are a vital component of any pedestrian safety program for people who are blind or have low vision. Accessible pedestrian signals, commonly referred to as APS, provide both an audible and a vibrotactile method of informing pedestrians when the visual WALK signal is displayed. As a result of both a strong, multiyear community advocacy, spearheaded by the California Council of the Blind and the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a northern California agency, and the structured negotiations process, San Francisco now has approximately 690 APS devices installed at 70 intersections throughout the city. This article reviews the technical specifications that are being used in San Francisco and the advocacy effort behind the installations, and discusses the impact of APS on the community of people who are visually impaired.
Technical Specifications of San Francisco's APS
Details of the features, functions, and installation requirements for San Francisco's APS are included in the technical specifications that were negotiated as part of the APS settlement agreement. These specifications are available online at http://lflegal.com/2007/05/sf-aps-agreement/2.
The state-of-the art signaling devices that are being installed in San Francisco are manufactured by Polara Engineering (www.polara.com) and assist pedestrians who are blind or have low vision by emitting a rapid ticking sound in tandem with the familiar WALK symbol that is displayed for sighted pedestrians. The rapid tick was selected over the frequently heard "chirp" and "cuckoo" sounds on the basis of current research on pedestrian safety. Various devices were tested by the city and advocacy organizations before the final selection was made.
When the rapid tick is emitted, a large tactile arrow on the pushbutton also vibrates. This additional method of alerting pedestrians to the Walk phase is helpful both to pedestrians who are deaf-blind and to any blind pedestrian who may need or appreciate additional information regarding the Walk phase.
The APS in San Francisco also have "locator tones"—audible beeps to enable persons with visual impairments to know of their presence and to locate the devices. Many of the installations also provide other audible information, such as street names, when pedestrians press the pushbutton for one second or longer, which also increases the volume of the device. For example, when holding the pushbutton for one second or longer during the Walk phase, a pedestrian may hear "Walk Sign is on to cross Market Street." When the pushbutton is depressed when the Walk sign is not on, the pedestrian will hear "Wait to cross Market at Fifth Street."
The specifications also include information about the placement of poles, volume settings, and other installations and operational guidelines for successful APS placements. These specifications were designed to ensure the safest possible installations and a seamless integration with the city's general pedestrian signal program. For example, the specifications require that if a visual signal is a "fixed time signal" (a signal that does not require the pedestrian to push a button), then the audio and tactile aspects of the signal are also fixed time.
APS features, functions, and installation requirements are spelled out in great detail in the San Francisco APS agreement because, as with many accessible technology issues, "the devil is in the details." Because APS are also a safety issue, in addition to being a civil rights and access issue, the proper installation takes on added significance. For example, the technical specifications spell out the details on volume control by providing that both the locator tone and the walk signal "shall be audible, under varying conditions of ambient sound, 6 feet to 12 feet from the pushbutton, or to the building line of the nearest building, whichever is less" (Section 2 of the technical specifications). The agreement further provides that "volume shall be increased for one, or if available from the vendor, two Pedestrian Timing cycles following a button press of one second or more."
There are similar details about the placement of the poles upon which the APS are mounted. Absent specified defenses, APS are to be "installed such that the APS Control Surfaces and associated speakers are separated by a horizontal distance of at least 10 feet" (Section 2.3). Furthermore, "all APS Control Surfaces shall be placed so that the Control Surface is within five feet of the extended crosswalk lines, and not more than 10 feet from the edge of the curb unless the curb ramp is longer than 10 feet. The Control Surface of the Accessible Pedestrian Signals shall be oriented to be parallel to the crosswalk to be used. In addition, the poles on which Accessible Pedestrian Signals are placed in new or altered Intersections where new poles are installed, where feasible shall be located 10 inches or less to a level, firm, stable, slip-resistant, all-weather surface no less than 36 inches by 48 inches and on an accessible route to the curb ramp. (All dimensions are horizontally measured.)"
The foregoing specifications for the placement of poles and volume settings give an idea of the level of details contained in the technical specifications that were negotiated as part of the San Francisco APS agreement. In addition to the reasons just stated, these details are important because they allow for consistency for travelers who are visually impaired in San Francisco. In San Francisco, all APS units behave the same way, and there are not multiple types of units configured in various ways throughout the city. The APS details that are set forth in the technical specifications are critical to ensuring that APS provide effective information in as safe a manner as possible for pedestrians with visual impairments.
Why APS Matter
APS have a proved track record internationally of improving safety for pedestrians with visual impairments. Jessie Lorenz, the coauthor of this article and the director of public policy and information for the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, provided the following firsthand account of their importance from the perspective of a pedestrian who is blind.
"I have been involved in the San Francisco disability rights community for 10 years. When I started, San Francisco had one accessible pedestrian signal, located at San Francisco State University. There are now over 60 intersections with APS units. The audiotactile information that APS provide about the Walk cycle is something I have spoken about a great deal in public meetings. I truly feel that APS are an important part of the civic infostructure. (I may be coining the word "infostructure" in this article, but I don't mean "infrastructure." There is a complex web of information provided by public entities in all public places. As a blind person, I need as much access to that information as I can get.)
"Although I had known of the political, safety, and civil rights importance of APS for many years, the meaning of APS in my own life crystallized for me only eight months ago when I got off the streetcar mistakenly at the wrong stop. I was going to a new place and miscounted the number of stops to my destination. So here I was in an unfamiliar place, completely blind and in the middle of a busy street trying to orient myself. The streetcar stops on an island in the middle of the street. I could hear the locator tone on the Polara Navigator beaconing sound. I found the unit, read the braille on the unit, and was immediately able to determine what streets I was at. I decided to walk the rest of my route to my destination. The APS units along my journey enabled me to double check the names of streets and cross with the Walk cycle on streets that were unfamiliar to me. I got a little more exercise that morning and wasn't even late for my appointment! It was the first time I have ever felt like I live in a fully accessible community."
Stories like these must be shared with traffic engineers across the country who may not yet be familiar with the importance of APS installations.
Structured Negotiations Process
The devices in San Francisco are the result of a successful multiyear advocacy campaign by the California Council of the Blind, the San Francisco LightHouse, and others. Before the campaign, only one intersection was equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals in the entire city. Using the structured negotiations process instead of litigation, the community of persons who are visually impaired and the city hammered out an agreement in 2007 that has resulted in the installations to date. In the settlement agreement, the city agreed to install APS at a minimum of 80 intersections and to spend a minimum of $1.6 million on APS over a 2½-year period. The agreement also provides that the city will seek additional funding for more installations.
Structured negotiations is a process that avoids litigation and allows potential adversaries to work collaboratively to resolve accessibility issues. The method has been used to improve the accessibility of web sites; to provide credit reports in braille, large-print, and audio formats, as well as in accessible formats online; to convince banks to install Talking ATMs and provide alternative formats; and to work with retailers in providing tactile keypads so that customers with visual impairments can independently enter PIN numbers and other personal information. The process was particularly helpful in pressing the San Francisco visually impaired community's need for APS. Advancing technology and new research on safety demand that the parties have an ongoing constructive relationship to resolve issues as they arise. Litigation often prevents such a relationship from developing.
The written settlement agreement guarantees the ongoing relationship by containing a provision that requires San Francisco representatives to meet twice a year with representatives of the visually impaired community to discuss implementation issues, as well as any new technological, legal, or safety developments in connection with APS. The city has also agreed to maintain the new devices and has adopted a policy for San Francisco residents to request accessible pedestrian signals. (The policy is available online at www.sfmta.com/cms/wproj/aps.htm.) San Francisco has also adopted a detailed checklist to enable it to establish priorities among APS requests fairly on the basis of safety factors and other criteria. As with the APS, the "prioritization tool" was adapted from a detailed state-of-the-art research document provided by consultants who assisted in the negotiations. More information on such tools is available on the web site of Beezy Bentzen and Janet Barlow, two of the consultants who were involved in the San Francisco APS effort, at www.walkinginfo.org/aps/chapter5_tool.cfm and www.apsguide.org/appendix_d.cfm.
Further evidence of the positive relationship that was spawned as a result of the San Francisco APS advocacy effort can be found in the press release that was jointly issued when the program was announced. City officials praised the community advocates and the structured negotiations process, and San Francisco's city attorney stated: "This agreement reflects far more than our commitment to public safety—it represents San Francisco's commitment to engage the disability community in a manner that is cooperative rather than confrontational on matters involving accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. ... [I am] thankful for the positive approach taken by advocates for the blind and visually impaired community."
AccessWorld readers are encouraged to share the information in this article and the following resources with community members, local traffic engineers, and other state and local officials. Pedestrian safety is a critical issue for people who are blind or have low vision, and APS should be a significant part of all pedestrian safety programs.
The San Francisco APS settlement agreement and related documents are available on Lainey Feingold's web site, http://LFLegal.com. The direct link to the settlement agreement is http://lflegal.com/2007/05/sf-aps-agreement. The APS technical specifications can be found at http://lflegal.com/2007/05/sf-aps-agreement/2. Lainey, along with civil rights lawyer Linda Dardarian (www.gdblegal.com) represented the visually impaired community in negotiations with San Francisco.
Jessie Lorenz, director of public policy and information, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is the principal advocate who is helping San Francisco implement the historic APS agreement. She can be reached at 415-694-7361 or email@example.com.
Eugene Lozano, Jr., first vice president of the California Council of the Blind, and chair of the Access and Transportation Committee, was instrumental in formulating the technical specifications used in San Francisco. He can be reached at 916-278-6988 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A wealth of information and research about APS can be found on the newly redesigned web site of Accessible Design for the Blind at www.accessforblind.org/aps_abt.html.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail us at email@example.com.
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In the February issue of the AccessWorld Extra e-mail, we asked readers about their use of social networking sites and social bookmarking sites. Social networking sites are used for connecting with friends, family members, people you knew in the past, and even professional colleagues. Social bookmarking sites let you collect your bookmarks in a way that is not specific to a particular computer or browser—you can log on from anywhere and get to your favorite bookmarked sites. You can also vote for an article by bookmarking it publicly.
A link to the survey was posted on the AccessWorld home page, and people could also respond by e-mail. A total of 62 people answered the survey, and their responses follow. These responses represent the opinions and experiences of these individuals, not any larger group of people who are blind or have low vision.
1. If you use social networking sites, which of the following sites do you use?
Linked In: 15
www.alwaysillinois.org and www.xt3.com
Disaboom and Blinknation
SAMNet (System Access Mobile Network)
Konnects, Zion5, Direct Matches, Adlandpro
Plaxo and Classmates
2. If you do not use social networking sites, why don't you use them?
I communicate with friends in other ways: 7
I am not interested in using them: 7
I tried them and found them to be inaccessible: 3
I do not have the time: 1
Other (please specify) 7
I participate in lists with common interests.
Often too busy to use the two I mentioned let alone struggle to learn a complex site.
I am afraid by using them I will get spyware, viruses, or malware on my computer. Also, that my personal information will be compromised.
I am afraid even to try using these sites because I am afraid they will be inaccessible.
I actually want to and even need to for my job; I just haven't sat down long enough with them to overcome the inherent accessibility problems. I will most likely use Facebook when I really dig into this.
3. If you use social networking sites, which one do you use most often?
Linked In: 3
Other (please specify) 7
4. How accessible do you find social networking sites in general?
Very accessible: 4
Somewhat accessible: 23
Somewhat inaccessible: 12
Very inaccessible: 4
I don't use social networking sites: 7
5. If you use social networking sites, which of the following do you use them for?
Keeping in touch with friends: 36
Professional networking: 28
Looking up people from high school or college: 25
Keeping in touch with family members: 23
Other (please specify) 4
Posting agricultural and food-related information, questions, and discussions.
I am beginning to promote advocacy issues.
Receiving news headlines and sports scores and learning about newly uploaded podcasts via Twitter.
6. If you use social bookmarking sites, which of the following do you use?
Other (please specify) 1
7. If you do not use social bookmarking sites, why don't you use them?
I am not interested in using them: 21
I am not familiar with social bookmarking sites: 20
I tried them and found them to be inaccessible: 1
Other (please specify) 5
I don't have time to play with that stuff.
I just don't have the spare time. I make little use of the networking sites, too, for the same reason.
I'm afraid using them will cause spyware, viruses, or malware to be put on my computer. Also, I'm afraid my personal information will be compromised.
8. How accessible do you find social bookmarking sites?
Very accessible: 6
Somewhat accessible: 4
Somewhat inaccessible: 4
Very inaccessible: 2
I don't use social bookmarking sites: 19
9. Please comment on which sites you have found most accessible and which sites you have had accessibility problems with.
Twitter is in large part accessible. Facebook is hit or miss and redesigns very often, changing how accessible it is. Applications also make this somewhat difficult to answer. I use Livejournal and find it in large part accessible.
Gmail account registration is awful!!!! They have CAPTCHAS, and their "accessibility" button, I don't know what it's actually called, is no help at all.
The Ning sites have inaccessible functions as well as many other social networking and bookmarking sites. It takes more time to learn than it is worth for me.
A great work around for Facebook and MySpace is using their mobile sites from my computer. I use Facebook all the time from m.facebook.com or m.myspace.com, and they are so much easier to navigate for the main features.
I have found Facebook kind of accessible.
I have found all the sites I've listed pretty accessible. The chief issue tends to be unlabeled images (the issue that comes up most with most web sites I visit).
The web sites I had the most accessibility problems with are Digg and Facebook. They still need work as far as making it accessible to screen readers, since the Digg web site has the headings, but whenever I am trying to read something, it keeps on reloading, and whenever I try to submit something to Digg, you have to fill in this box; you do have to listen to the letters, but you have to reload the page just to find the box to type in the info. Facebook still needs the face-lift on the main web site, some of the links work while other stuff is very inaccessible, but the mobile web site you can access. Whenever I try to look up applications to make it accessible, I really don't get anything, and the redesigning of the web site as far as access keys just to find the certain parts of the web site would make it a lot better. The web sites I do find really accessible are Twitter and Delicious. I did the signing up stuff through Firefox, and since I have the webvisum add-on really makes it possible to fill in the words and or numbers. Whenever you come to the box to fill in the info, you just paste it in the box, and once you sign up, it is pretty easy to get an account and start twittering. The two things that are related to Twitter are Twittermail and Twitteroo. Those things are really accessible. Now with Delicious, I can log in and access my bookmarks, and it's again pretty simple once you sign up to access all the features. I use the Firefox add on, and the Windows application called Delicer. They are both really accessible, and you can also synch your Internet Explorer favorites as well. Both Twitteroo and Delicer are on my desktop, and I love them. Now if only Facebook could come up with stuff something similar to what Twitter and Delicious have, it would make it easier for everyone to use.
I have looked at Facebook and MySpace and find them too difficult even to sign up or make a page. I am trying Twitter. I think it can be usable, but I am having trouble using the audio verification to finish the sign-up process.
I do not use social networking or social bookmarking sites. I use the Braille Sense, and I am not sure how well the unit would respond to these sites. I have also seen MySpace cause drama in people's lives, affecting them personally and professionally.
SAMNet is terrific because it is designed for blind users and provides an interface for other social networking sites, too. I have little experience with others, though I hear a lot bad about all of them.
I have found Twitter to be very accessible. I've heard that the audio CAPTCHA isn't that great, but I signed up before that was implemented. Facebook is mostly accessible, but there are some things on that site that I am unable to do. I primarily use JAWS for Windows version 9.0, although do have experience with Window-Eyes and System Access.
I particularly like Twitter and Delicious. Facebook is improving.
I find Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook very accessible. I said somewhat accessible earlier because the CAPTCHAs on MySpace are not audio and are required a lot.
Twitter is the most accessible site. Facebook is way too cluttered.
I signed up with Facebook but will probably never use it. There are too many other things going on, and I don't need to add something else.
I find Facebook and Twitter to be pretty accessible and MySpace to be less accessible.
Twitter is totally accessible; Facebook is very accessible for the things that I enjoy doing—uploading photos, status updates, wall communication, etc. I use JAWS for Windows and have no sight.
I find Twitter usable without many access issues. However, I would say there are several improvements that would benefit blind users. Facebook is usable with Jaws, but System Access totally improves the experience and usability.
I find Facebook to be a challenge. MySpace is somewhat better but not always accessible. And when people have music on their MySpace page, it's often impossible to hear JAWS.
I mainly use Facebook, and once I got past the CAPTCHA during registration, I had pretty good luck with it.
MySpace is extremely frustrating. Not only is the page cluttered, but many of the profiles play audio in the background, making it nearly impossible to hear a synthesizer. Twitter is extremely accessible and usable. In fact, the recently released scripts from www.randylaptop.com, known as JAWTER, allow JAWS users to read and post Tweets from anywhere in Windows. Very convenient.
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In February, Amazon.com introduced the Kindle 2, a new version of its e-book reader. This announcement caught the attention of people who are blind or have low vision because it included the statement that the Kindle 2 offers text-to-speech capability. The Kindle 2 also has the ability to enlarge the size of the text on the books and other content that it can display. According to an evaluation conducted by AFB TECH, "Although these features have the potential to accommodate Kindle users with vision loss, that potential has not been realized with this version of the Kindle. These features can be put into effect only while you are actually in an open book or other file, and you cannot access these features throughout the rest of the Kindle 2's interface. You cannot use text-to-speech or larger fonts to access the Kindle 2's Home Screen, its menus or settings, or to access the Kindle Store to purchase and download a book or other content. You also cannot use them to browse through and search for the books and other content you have on your Kindle 2. Also, even when you have a book or newspaper open on the Kindle, it is difficult to adjust the speech or magnification to suit your individual needs. For example, the text-to-speech does not speak when you use the interface to choose the male or female voice, to adjust the rate of the speech, or to choose the size of the text. The large text also does not work when using this interface item. The speech is also limited in that you have no navigational control while reading at all, other than for starting and stopping speech. The large text is also limited in that at its largest, it is only a 16-point font. Although that is larger than the 14-point font of the original Kindle, it is still smaller than the 18-point font recommended for people with low vision by the American Printing House for the Blind. The rest of the Kindle 2's interface uses small text ranging between 7- and 10-point fonts."
The Authors Guild has lodged complaints that the text-to-speech feature would interfere with audiobook rights. An unprecedented collaboration of more than 20 organizations, representing people who are blind, the elderly, and people with learning disabilities, has been formed under the umbrella Reading Rights Coalition, including an online petition and an April 7 protest outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York.
The Authors Guild's claim is absurd. The text-to-speech voices of the Kindle 2 are human sounding, but few sighted people will listen to them for long stretches in place of buying an audiobook with a human narrator. I urge everyone to sign the Reading Rights Coalition's online petition at www.thepetitionsite.com/1/We-Want-To-Read, and I hope Amazon will be convinced to make the Kindle 2 accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Doing so would give us access to hundreds of thousands of additional books.
In this issue, Darren Burton presents the first in a two-part series evaluating Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo, two accessible cell phone-based GPS navigation systems that can be used in conjunction with cell phone screen-reading software. This article describes both systems and focuses on Wayfinder Access. In July, Darren will focus on Mobile Geo, with a comparison of the two products' features and functions. Find out how well Wayfinder Access performed.
Deborah Kendrick and I report on the 24th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, hosted by the Center on Disabilities of California State University at Northridge. Read our coverage to find out about new and updated products that we found in the exhibit halls.
Lainey Feingold, attorney, and Jessie Lorenz, director of public policy and information, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, tell the story of the accessible pedestrian signals that have been installed by the city of San Francisco. These signals provide both an audible and a vibrotactile method of informing pedestrians when the visual "WALK" signal is displayed. San Francisco now has approximately 690 APS devices installed at 70 intersections throughout the city. Read about how these signals came to be installed.
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Letters to the Editor
Facebook Mobile Edition
I recently read ["A New Way to Find Old Friends: A Review of the Accessibility of Facebook"] in the March 2009 issue of AccessWorld. While the review of the accessibility of Facebook was useful, I think that it would have been worthwhile to mention the mobile version of the Facebook web site at http://m.facebook.com.
This [version] does not have all the features, but it will let you find new friends [and] view information about existing friends, such as their profiles, walls and so forth. And you can also view your own inbox and your wall, of course. You can also join and use groups. I don't think you can use applications from this page, but for most people, m.facebook.com should work well.
Your March article ["GPS Made Simple: A Review of the Trekker Breeze"] gives the basic functions for the unit. I just purchased one about two weeks ago. I live in a large city, Chicago, and there are some practical characteristics of the Breeze that should be explained more thoroughly.
I think that the Breeze is a helpful device, but it can require getting used to its "personality." For reasons that I do not understand on a technical level, the Breeze, like most GPS devices, can lose the satellite signal or give a false reading. I have had my unit announce, for example, an intersection after I have already crossed it. If I am moving slowly, it may think that I have turned onto a cross-street that I have only crossed. Usually, it will correct itself within 30 to 50 feet.
I have used the unit on buses and trains, and it is great to hear the streets we are passing in case the driver [is not paying attention] or an automated announcement system is not working. You need to make an effort to be near as much window area as possible. I found it most helpful to angle the front of the Breeze toward the front windshield.
On trains, which do not follow streets, I learned by experimenting, that when I push the large, Where Am I button, it gives me quite a bit of information. I am recording landmarks at the different train stations.
It is important to stay in one place and hold the Breeze still when first turning the unit on. They tell you that the functionality should come up in about 3 minutes. The first time, it will take about 20 minutes, so be prepared to leave on your journey early. In subsequent trips, the signal did come in much quicker, but, occasionally, it will get stubborn and make you wait.
Users of GPS systems for the sighted report that their units can give false readings or cut out, so it seems to be a part of the limitations of the technology.
In spite of these issues, I have found the Trekker Breeze to be a real help even in unfamiliar places because it gives street and point of interest information. As someone told me, it is important to use your own mobility skills and not to be totally dependent on the device. It can tell you that you are going east, once in a while, when you are actually traveling north. White canes can be used improperly as well.
When traveling in unfamiliar cities, the unit can give you street information, but if you are unfamiliar with the streets in a town, the names may not be helpful as with a full GPS system. On the Net, I found a demonstration of a person using his laptop with Internet connection and Microsoft Live in his hotel to locate, for example, a restaurant, and the route to go there. With the route and a Breeze, you have a good tool for keeping on course. I am very glad that HumanWare ventured into this simpler GPS environment. You also have the option of purchasing GPS maps for every state in the United States.
My advice is to take the time to read through the manual carefully and make notes where things get a bit tricky. You can load your notes into a Victor Reader Stream, another wonderful HumanWare product, and take all the info with you. Like most technology, learning the personality of the device takes a bit of time, but it is well worth it.
I personally have been into GPS and have seen many different GPS products. When I first herd about the Breeze, I was not too sure about it. Well, one day, a friend of mine let me use his. Let's just say I was amazed. I then had to by my own. I love its ease of use. It's much easier to travel and not have to always worry about pushing buttons on your GPS. You can use it with one hand and your cane or dog with the other. I commend HumanWare for this, and I hope the Breeze is here for years to come.
Medal for Markey Represents Career of Advocacy
On March 5, in Washington, DC, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) presented Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey with the Migel Medal—the highest award in the field of blindness—for a lifetime of pioneering work promoting the rights of people with disabilities. Perkins School for the Blind is pleased to echo the AFB's accolades. Congressman Markey's national leadership in authoring the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act is the most recent chapter in a career of constant and tireless efforts to make all media accessible for all Americans.
From Mr. Markey's own district—on Perkins' Watertown, MA, campus—we have seen firsthand the fervor with which he has worked to ensure that every person has access to the wealth of information in the media, particularly via videos and the Internet. Such universal access to information is vital to personal and financial independence for everyone. Passage of this new legislation will have a huge, positive impact on students, alumni, and families who are served by Perkins, as well as others across the country who have sensory impairments or other disabilities.
Congratulations to Rep. Markey, not only for his award, but for the decades of bipartisan, people-first advocacy it represents. When leaders take up the cause of those who are disabled, the whole of society benefits. We proudly take this opportunity to thank Ed Markey for all he has done and continues to do.
Steven M. Rothstein
President, Perkins School for the Blind
175 North Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472
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When Amazon.com announced, on February 9, 2009, the release of its new Kindle 2 handheld e-book reader with the addition of text-to-speech capabilities, people who are blind became interested in this inaccessible device. Unfortunately, the text-to-speech capability does not work in the Kindel 2's menus, so it cannot be operated by a person who is blind. Then, the Authors Guild lodged complaints that the feature would interfere with audiobook rights. An unprecedented collaboration of more than 20 organizations, representing people who are blind, the elderly, and people with learning disabilities, has been formed under the umbrella Reading Rights Coalition, including an online petition and an April 7 protest outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York. What Amazon will do remains to be seen.
Accessible Mobile from Verizon
For years, Verizon Wireless has captured much of the visually impaired market because of its continuing line of partially accessible phones. The LG 4500, 4650, 8300, and 8350, as well as the newer Chocolate, Env2, Voyager, and others, come out of the box with voice-activation and self-voicing capabilities. Such features as talking caller ID, announcements of missed calls and voice mail messages, and the ability to enter and review contacts are all features that have added up to phones that can be used by people who are unable to read the screen, but not completely. With one exception (the Env2), sending and receiving text messages was not possible with these phones, and the spoken menus became silent when the second or third tier was investigated.
On March 15, because of a collaboration with Nuance and assistance from Dolphin USA, Verizon Wireless announced the release of its Motorola Q9C with TALKS. The PDA-style phone can be shipped with the TALKS program (and Eloquence speech synthesizer) already loaded, and thus be fully accessible out of the box. With it, users can access and manipulate Contacts, Calendar, and phone settings (such as ring tones and alarms. A user who is blind can easily send and receive e-mail messages and instant messages, surf the Internet, and more. Prices vary according to the contracts that are selected. With a two-year contract, for instance, with TALKS already loaded, the phone sells for $249. For more information, visit www.verizonwireless.com/accessibility.
Religious History on CD
Richard Seltzer has long been in the business of gathering public-domain books of one genre or another and making them available in electronic formats on CD or DVD. His latest compilations include a disc of 171 books pertaining to the Catholic faith and another of 23 books pertaining to modern Greek literature. The Catholic religion CD includes, according to a recent announcement from Samizdat, the Douay-Rheims Bible, works by saints and saintlike individuals, works about saints and saintlike individuals, early church history, later church history and doctrine, Jesuit pioneers, and books by Dante and John Henry Newman. The Modern Greek CD contains 23 books, including works by Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Aristotle, Lucian, Konstantinos Christomanos, and Emmanuel. Books are in plain text format and can be read on the computer or transferred to handheld players. For a complete list of the collections that are available and information on ordering, visit www.samizdat.com or phone 617-469-2269.
Alexander Graham Bell probably never dreamed that his single invention would lead to so many options as consumers have today with regard to telephone service.
While some cling with a certain ferocity to traditional landline service, others are opting to function with only a mobile phone for connection to the world. Still others are buying phone service from cable companies or going with various voiceover Internet telephone options. Enter the MagicJack, which has been capturing attention from high-tech and low-tech customers alike.
Simply, this device is a small rectangular box (about one by three inches) with a USB connector for plugging into your computer and a standard telephone connection for connecting any cordless or hard-wired phone. Connect it to your PC, the manufacturers say, and you will be given a telephone number and prompted through a brief setup process. With MagicJack, callers can make local and long-distance calls throughout the United States and Canada for a $19.95 annual cost.
The device can be purchased through various retail outlets (Radio Shack, QVC, and elsewhere) or online at www.magicjack.com. Some computer users who are blind say that the setup process is a breeze, while others say that it is time intensive and requires sighted assistance. Although a 30-day free trial is offered when you order the device from MagicJack directly, some customers have reported that it is less expensive to buy it at a third-party source to avoid credit card charges that may have to be disputed later. The only additional service provided is voicemail, so if call waiting or forwarding are your must-have features, this is not the product for you. Again, while the jury is still partially out, many are singing the praises of this low-cost option to long-distance telephone service. Check it out at www.magicjack.com.
Victor Reader Stream 3.0 Released
HumanWare has released the 3.0 upgrade for users of the popular Victor Reader Stream. Easy, as usual, to install, the upgrade includes a number of exciting features, many of which are clearly the result of listening to customer feedback. Highlights of 3.0 include two text-to-speech voices that can now be on the Stream at once and accessed with a single key press, multilevel folders in the music folder, the availability of bookmark alerts as you pass over them, a 30-minute option added to the time-jump menu, the ability to search for specific words in text files, and more.
To download the upgrade—as well as documentation and an audio tutorial reviewing new features—visit www.humanware.com/stream_support.
HumanWare Companion 3.0 Released
HumanWare has also released an entirely new program to be used as an optional adjunct to the Victor Reader Stream and/or ClassMate Reader (the handheld player with a visual screen and talking dictionary for people with learning disabilities). Renamed the HumanWare Companion because it works with both the Victor Reader Stream and ClassMate Reader products, the program is not an upgrade to its predecessors but a new free download altogether. While using it is completely optional, it does offer some features that many will find appealing. With the HumanWare Companion software, the user can transfer Bookshare books or books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped without first unzipping them on the computer, enjoy more flexibility in transferring music, and add voice labels up to 50 characters to individual SD cards; optional progress beeps have been added to indicate that a transfer is in progress. To learn about these and other features in more detail and to download the new software, visit www.humanware.com/stream_support.
New iPod Shuffle
On March 11, Apple announced the release of their new 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle with VoiceOver. The exciting news about this new iPod Shuffle is that it can speak the names of the songs and playlists you have loaded onto it. It also speaks the names of the artists who recorded the songs, and it can also announce its battery strength. It uses a very high-quality synthetic voice—Mac users will recognize the voice as the Alex voice that is used by the Mac's built-in VoiceOver screen reader. This is Apple's second iPod product with speech output capabilities, joining the iPod Nano 4th Generation, reviewed in the January 2009 issue of AccessWorld.
Priced at $79, the new 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle is also the smallest digital audio player ever developed, measuring a tiny 1.8 by 0.7 by 0.3 inches and weighing only 0.4 ounces. However, this tiny package holds 4 GB of your music collection or Audible.com audio books, doubling the capacity of the previous iPod Shuffle. Like previous Shuffles, it has a convenient, built-in clip so you can fasten it to your hat or shirt while you are working out or working around the house. However, it only has one control, a switch that slides from Off to Loop to Shuffle, and it does not have the 5-way control found on previous Shuffles. Instead, the buttons to choose your music and control the volume are actually on the ear buds that are included with the new Shuffle. About 4 inches down the cord from one of the ear buds is a control with 3 buttons in a straight line, with the middle button for Play/Pause and the outside buttons for Up/Down Volume. Apple has cleverly designed the way they can be used to control your music and produce spoken information about your songs and playlists. A single click of the middle button is play/pause, a double click is next track or audio book chapter, and a triple click is previous track or audio book chapter. You fast forward by double clicking and holding the middle button, and rewind is triple click and hold. Pressing and holding the middle button causes the new Shuffle to speak the current song title and artist, and if you hold it until you hear a beep, your playlists are spoken in order, and you click again when you hear the playlist you want to hear.
To learn more about the new 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle, go to www.apple.com/ipodshuffle/voiceover.html.
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July 3–8, 2009
National Federation of the Blind National Convention
Contact: National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; phone: 410-659-9314; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.nfb.org/nfb/national_convention.asp.
July 4–11, 2009
American Council of the Blind National Convention
Contact: American Council of the Blind; phone: 202-467-5081; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.acb.org/convention/info2009-1.html.
July 14–16, 2009
QAC Sight Village
Contact: Queen Alexandra College; web site: www.qac.ac.uk/sightvillage/index.html.
September 16–18, 2009
Contact: Royal National Institute of Blind People, 58-72 John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN, UK; Phone: +44 (0) 121 665 4240; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.rnib.org.uk/techshare.
October 15–17, 2009
27th Annual Closing the Gap Conference: Computer Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation
Contact: Closing the Gap, P.O. Box 68, 526 Main Street, Henderson, MN 56044; phone: 507-248-3294; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.closingthegap.com.
October 28–31, 2009
Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) 2009 Chicago Conference
Contact: ATIA, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611; phone: 877-687-2842 or 312-321-5172; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.atia.org.
November 10–14, 2009
Accessing Higher Ground
Contact: Howard Kramer: CU-Boulder; Phone: 303-492-8672; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.colorado.edu/Atconference/.
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